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Two and a half centuries after scientist Carl Linnaeus proclaimed chocolate the "food of the gods," new research provides further evidence that it can lower blood pressure in mere mortals.

Published in The Cochrane Library, the short-term trials were conducted by researchers at Australia's National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Melbourne and University of Adelaide.

It's thought that flavanols, compounds contained in cocoa, can produce nitric oxide in the body, which relaxes and widens blood vessel walls. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure.

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Among the 20 studies, each of the 856 healthy participants received daily portions ranging from three to 100 grams of chocolate, which equals 30 to 1,080 mg of flavanols. The trials lasted anywhere between two and 18 weeks.

A BBC article quotes lead researcher Karin Ried as saying, "Although we don't yet have evidence for any sustained decrease in blood pressure, the small reduction we saw over the short term might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease."

This is not the first time that dark chocolate has been linked to lowering blood pressure. In 2007, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported similar findings.

Who doesn't welcome an excuse to eat more rich, dark, velvety chocolate? (Milk varieties don't count.) Especially when the study suggests that high blood pressure can be attributed to 37 per cent of cardiovascular-related deaths in Western populations.

But don't go justifying dessert on account of these findings. The calories in chocolate don't vanish; in fact, people can derive the same benefits from blueberries, spinach, beans and skim milk. And, of course, exercise can help lower blood pressure while also burning calories.

Indeed, the study seems somewhat inconclusive, and the researchers concede that more trials are needed to determine whether cocoa products have a long-term impact on blood pressure.

Still, chocoholics can take some comfort in knowing that an extra square or two daily does no harm. So who else is craving chocolate right about now?

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